Photo of Florida wetlands conservation

Dean Saunders recently sat down with The Land Journal to explain what exactly a conservation easement is.

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Dean Saunders, ALC, CCIM is Founder, Managing Director and Senior Advisor at SVN | Saunders Ralston Dantzler Real Estate in Lakeland, Florida. Since 1985, Dean has specialized in Florida land and conservation easements. He served in the US Senate as Agricultural Liaison, Special Assistant, and Director of External Affairs to US Senator Lawton Chiles, then Governor Chiles (D-FL).

From 1992 to 1996 Saunders served in the Florida House of Representatives, and while in office pioneered the conservation easement program that has grown robust in the decades since. Saunders believes that Conservation Easements are a fair and beneficial process that will help protect Florida's environment for decades to come. 

As a leading expert on conservation easements, Dean began the interview by defining Conservation Easements as "a legal document that travels with the property. From a practical perspective, it is an agreement between two parties for restricted use of that property."

"For example," Saunders continued, "somebody owns a ranch. They may not want to see it developed. And it may be adjacent to a state park and the state may have an interest in protecting that property and making sure that it's not ever developed. But the landowner doesn't want to sell it, they want to give it to their family and their heirs.

"They may enter into a conservation easement. The state may buy an easement from the landowner and they enter into an agreement that the property won't ever be sold for development. And the landowner receives compensation for entering into that agreement. It is typically in perpetuity." 

Saunders went on to specify that the buyer is generally "a unit of government  or a conservation organization. So it could be the state of Florida, the Water Management Districts, a county government, or even the federal government. The federal government does plenty through the United States Department of Agriculture. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service does some. The Department of Defense is doing some as well, typically in partnership with some other unit of government."   

If you are wondering whether your land may qualify for conservation easements, determine whether your land has the following characteristics:

  1. Home to endangered species of plants and animals
  2. In an area of Critical State Concern
  3. Is adjacent to government property
  4. Contains water sources or is part of a larger water system

While many of the easements share these qualities, the conservation easement is ultimately valued through an appraisal by a qualified appraiser. These easements provide a way for landowners to pass undeveloped land on to their heirs without having to develop it. This is a boon to many landowners hoping to retain long-held family property. These easements also help to protect millions of acres of habitats by keeping land in private hands, while offering public benefits. 

To view the interview in full, watch the video below:

To learn more about Conservation, check out these other articles by The Land Journal.


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